Dear New York Times: Fuzzy profiles on Neo-Nazis? Really? Why the Gray Lady has just flipped her lid.

I am certain a lot of you have done some very important, creative, and constructive things in your life, but The New York Times won’t give you the time of day.


But that’s just because you aren’t a Neo-Nazi!

Their profile is so wrong in so many ways, and so many people with critical-thinking skills are alarmed.

As well as they should be.

I am not going to go into the specifics of the content of the article as there has already been a lot said. What I will discuss is (a) the structure of profiles, and (b) journalistic objectivity.

Profiles are not the best way of conveying information to people, but journalists love them. The use a lot of “colour”: that is, frilly and flowery details used to “humanize” subjects and put a “face” on people.

I never liked colour because it is too easy to exploit and manipulate through it. People such as Bernie Ebbers and Kenneth Lay got away with their chicanery because too many newspapers and magazines had fawning profiles on these men. It gives the false impression that you “know” a newsmaker, but, in fact, you don’t know them. You need facts, and profiles are not structured for actual useful information.

But journalists still stubbornly stick to doing them. In a way, it is cheap and easy soft news filler instead of hard news information about people. Do not tell me about the television shows a person watches: tell me who is this person.

The other issue is the inert substance known as journalistic objectivity, which still murkily defined as getting this mysterious Both Sides to every story.

Yes, we can make an argument that we need to know about Neo-Nazis (hold on, critical thinking people; let me finish my point), but the Times profile was not the way to do it.

I have written about the problems of journalistic objectivity for Skeptic magazine, but one professor I interviewed at the time had a very good point: should the press have covered the Unabomber is a “fair” way?

Well, gee, he did blow up and kill innocent people, but you know, he may have had a point to his argument, and you can’t fault him for his anti-consumerist lifestyle, and cell phones are kind of annoying.

You can show the world all kinds of people and are obligated to do so, but you do not do it through a soft lens, but one of truth and reality, and that’s where the Times went so horribly wrong.

News is all about telling the public about potential problems and new information they need to make informed decisions. It is not about humanizing anyone: it is about giving facts people can actually take to the bank. Is a storm coming? Is the economy rebounding? Is this tycoon making money by exploiting workers? Is this law harming people? Is the court system levelling a playing field or stacking things against the poor?

The Times profile was so softball it was shocking. Once upon a time people needed crack publicists, image consultants, and PR flaks to snag that kind of publicity.

And now, any Neo-Nazi can manage it all on his own, yet journalists are not changing their ways or challenging their own beliefs.

The damage has been done, and it is an outrage.

The Gray Lady has had a meltdown as she gave herself yet another black eye.